Category Archives: Book Recommendations

Bookish Holiday Gifts for the Middle Grade Boy

I’ve heard many teachers and parents mention how hard it is to get middle grade boys to read. These boys, from age eight to twelve, are enticed by other media like video games, TV, and sports, and reading is (alas) not regarded as cool.

What books can snare reluctant readers? My son’s 6th grade social studies teacher told me that almost everyone has read the Wimpy Kid books. My son has read many of those books, too. I cannot classify him as a reluctant reader–he takes after me in a lot of ways, the poor kid–but he is a picky reader. He loves funny books–illustrations are a perk. He’s autistic and is strongly drawn to nonfiction, too, such as atlases and math books.

Therefore, I’m scanning his shelves for some of his new favorites, as well as revealing some Christmas gifts that will come his way. (Shh! Don’t tell him.)

If you read and love the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, check out Stephan Pastis’s middle grade series about Timmy Failure. These books are fully illustrated and include the same dry wit as his Pearls comics, though tailored for a younger audience. Kids and parents will enjoy this one!

Hilo starts off a graphic novels series about a mysterious boy with superpowers who crash lands on Earth and makes friends with human kids. It contains lots of action, and a fair share of whimsy, too, as Hilo learns about how kids act. Since my son is autistic and struggles with social skills, books like this offer him a great way to be entertained and learn something, too.

(Small disclaimer: I received a free Advanced Reader Copy of the second Hilo book at Book Expo America in Chicago. My son loved it and asked for the first book.)

The Vordak series is among my son’s favorites! Vordak is a villain plotting world domination from his parents’ basement, but as you might imagine, things do not go as he deviously plans.

If your kid-in-need-of-gift loves video games, look for manga series from Japan that have been translated and released in English. This Mega Man Megamix series is a favorite in my household, along with graphic novels for Pokemon and Kingdom Hearts.

Shh. We’re in gift territory now. I was really excited to find out the Super Mario comics series from Nintendo Power Magazine from 1992-1993 had just been released in book form. I LOVED these comics when I was his age, and I bet he’ll get a kick out of them, too.

I saw a lot of buzz about this Everything You Need to Ace series when they debuted earlier this year, and I have my eye on a couple of them. Take a look at the preview mode on Amazon–these books break down information with lots of illustrations and notes. There’s a friendly feel to it. This might not be a book for a child to sit down and casually read through (though my son will likely do that), but it may prove to be a good reference during the school year.

Happy holidays!

Breath of EarthBeth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.



Choice 2016 Novels & Collections for Holiday Gifts

Fran Wilde posted a detailed list of some 2016 works she deemed worthy of award consideration in the coming year. You can read the full list here.

Below is an excerpt featuring her recommendations for indie book stores, novels, and collections. Perhaps you’ll find an ideal gift for someone–or for yourself!

Amazing Indies, aka great places to support during the season…:


books(note: this list doesn’t include YA or Middle Grade because I’m on a jury, but please be aware there’s so much exceptional, diverse, reading to do in those categories, this year and always.)

  • Certain Dark Things – Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Thomas Dunne)
    Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
    Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.
  • Infomocracy – Malka Older (
    It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.
  • Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
    Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.
  • Breath of Earth – Beth Cato (Harper Voyager)
    In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer Wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.
  • Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer (Tor)
    Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.
  • Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
    To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.
  • Everfair – Nisi Shawl (Tor)
    An alternate history / historical fantasy / steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo, from noted short story writer Nisi Shawl.
    Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier.
  • The Family Plot – Cherie Priest (Tor)
    Chuck Dutton built Music City Salvage with patience and expertise, stripping historic properties and reselling their bones. Inventory is running low, so he’s thrilled when Augusta Withrow appears in his office offering salvage rights to her entire property. This could be a gold mine, so he assigns his daughter Dahlia to personally oversee the project.
  • Roses and Rot – Kat Howard (Saga)
    Imogen and her sister Marin have escaped their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, be it art or love.
    What would you sacrifice in the name of success? How much does an artist need to give up to create great art?
  • Wall of Storms – Ken Liu (Saga)
    Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, runs the archipelago kingdom of Dara, but struggles to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people and his vision. Then an unexpected invading force from the Lyucu empire in the far distant west comes to the shores of Dara—and chaos results.
  • All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders (Tor)
    Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.
  • Borderline – Mishell Baker (Saga)
    A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
  • Jane Steele – Lindsay Faye (Putnam)
    Reader, I murdered him.”

Collections, Anthologies, Serials:


Award-winning author (and technology consultant) Fran Wilde’s next novel, CLOUDBOUND, is available NOW! Her first novel, UPDRAFT debuted from Tor in 2015. Her short stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Nature,, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

A Few of my Favorite Things: 5 Ways for Writers to Spend Those Gift Cards

’tis the season for spending all of those holiday gift cards you’ve received from well-meaning folks who just didn’t know quite what to give their favorite writing-relative.  If you’re in a quandary about how to apply $25 to best support your writing career, here are some ideas.  And yes, I have made the guess that most of those gift cards are from book sellers. . .

A few of my favorite titles for writers.

A few of my favorite titles for writers.

Pick up a Best-seller

There’s probably a book in your genre that everyone’s been talking about, and which sounds like the kind of thing that would appeal to your readership–or vice versa–but which you’ve been avoiding, or haven’t made the time to read.  Reading the current hits in your genre, with an analytical eye, can help you to think about why that work appeals to readers, what that author is doing right, and what you can learn from their success.  Audio books are great for analyzing overall plot, pacing and development, while print books can help you examine style and look at how the writer builds scene and character on a word and sentence level.

Grab Some Cool Non-fiction

Find a title that sounds really interesting, that hits your sweet-spot.  Maybe this is a book you’ve been avoiding because it seems indulgent–right now, you are focusing on a novel about space-faring squid, and this book about rainforest insects is just a distraction.  But the rainforest bugs might be what you need to know about next, or give you some ah-ha moment that inspires your squid.  The most promising ideas often come from the conjunction of unexpected things.  Reward yourself with something fun and exciting to learn, and you will likely reap the benefit in new ideas.

Study up on a Craft Area

Okay, I am a writing how-to junkie, I admit it.  Reading how-to books helps me to keep in mind the stuff I already know about my craft, and remember to apply it to whatever I am writing.  For the intersection of character and plot, check out Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) by Debra Dixon.  For plot and structure, look at Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder.  For  some exercises at a more advanced level from most writing books, try Between the Lines:  master the subtle elements of fiction writing, by Jessica Page Morrell.   And lastly, if you want to have fun with it, try How Not to Write a Novel, by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman, which features “excerpts” from some truly terrible work–sure to make you feel better about your own!

Or Delve into the Business

When I was a different kind of entrepreneur, one of my business coaches made the distinction between working *in* your business (ie, in this case, actually writing a book or story) and working *on* your business:  developing the skills that will make you successful beyond simply producing the product.  Invest your holiday stash on learning more about how to manage the business of being a writer, whether that is maintaining your own website, indie publishing, or marketing your books.   This type of book becomes obsolete pretty quickly, so I’m not going to give you titles, but I suggest starting with the work of some great writing business bloggers, like Kristine Katherine Rusch, or Chuck Wendig.  If you want to amp up your productivity as a writer, then go for Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K for some great tips on how to make the most of your writing time.

And if That All Sounds like Work

Try a memoir of the writing life.  Many, many authors have written them, in any genre imaginable.  Sometimes, it helps to know that other writers, even those we now revere, have struggled, too.  Steven King’s On Writing is perhaps the most famous contemporary genre example, but Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, and Elizabeth George have all written books about the writing life which contain some fun, and some insight.

And above all else, have a creative and productive New Year!


4 New Nonfiction Books that Wowed Me in 2015

It’s that time of year to give lots of books to people! Yay! If you have someone on your list who isn’t big on fiction, that’s okay. I’m happy to recommend four awesome and very different nonfiction books that came out in 2015.

WeDontNeedRoadsWe Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy*
by Caseen Gaines
If you love the Back to the Future movies, it’s your density to read this book. It presents trivia galore about the fight to make the movies, the effort to cast Michael J. Fox as Marty, and the accident in the second movie that seriously injured a stuntwoman (and you can see her devastating fall in the background of the movie). If you grew up on these movies like I did, you’ll be riveted at all the behind-the-scenes info and cast anecdotes. This is heavy stuff. The subject matter is engaging so it’s a fast read, too.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated AutobiographyPioneerGirl
by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill
I’m still in the thick of reading this one, but wow, is it amazing. This was a surprise hit for South Dakota State Historical Society’s press earlier this year. This large hardcover book analyzes the full history of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books as it shifted from a straightforward autobiography for adults to a full “juvenile” fiction series. Wilder’s original text is heavily annotated with historical comments and references to multiple drafts of the manuscript. Maps, photographs, and original book illustrations complement the text. This is a Little House fan’s dream come true. I would have read this to memorization at age ten; at thirty-five, I am still geeking out.

AisforArsenicA is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie
by Kathryn Harkup
Are you morbidly curious about the use of poison? Are you an Agatha Christie fan? Are you a writer who uses poison in your stories? I raised my hand to all three questions, so it’s no surprise that I delighted in this book. It doesn’t cover the full alphabet, but it doesn’t need to; it’s packed with info on how Agatha Christie used poison in her novels (to a high degree of accuracy), how the poison was used historically, and how it is handled now. It mixes in info on some Christie plots, too, but takes care to avoid giving away the full whodunit. I’m keeping this on my reference shelf alongside Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook.

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and The Future of Neurodiversity*NeuroTribes
by Steve Silberman
My son has autism, so the history of autism and its treatment are very personal. Silberman has created a masterful work that demonstrates there isn’t really an ‘autism epidemic.’ Autism has always been part of humanity, and to its benefit; yet until recent decades, it was regarded as madness or categorized as schizophrenia or other illnesses that led to commitment and erasure from society. Some segments on Nazi eugenics and ‘treatments’ espoused in the 1950s were difficult to read (don’t get me started on the whole ‘refrigerator mother’ thing), but overall it’s a positive book and one that, I hope, enlightens many people.

* I received early reviewer copies of these books.

Clockwork Dagger

Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN from Harper Voyager.

Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

5 Books that Surprised Me in 2015

Hi folks, Mike here – As we move solidly into December, I’m looking back at books I read in 2015, like so many other folks in the bookish internet. For this round-up, I wanted to focus on books that surprised me in some way – made me laugh when I didn’t expect it, caught me with a gut-punch, and so on.

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6 Comics for SF/F Prose Readers

I spend a lot of time reading not only SF/F prose books, but comics in the genre as well. But there are a lot of prose readers who have a hard time figuring out where to start, or where to find jumping-on point with comics.

Worry no more. Here are six SF/F comics that I think prose readers will really enjoy.

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